Yesterday's Gone - Loyle Carner
If there was ever a doubt to the strength of British based hip-hop, Loyle Carner is the man to combat it. This grime/hip-hop newcomer has been making his way to the top, starting with his well-received 2014 mixtape A Little Late, and continuing to make waves throughout 2015 with his hit single “Florence,” featured in Apple commercials nationwide. It was only then that his smooth, confessional-style rap began to gain notice from international audiences, all thoroughly intrigued and lusting for more.
With undisguised lyrics and soulful tunes far beyond his years, Carner (real name, Ben Coyle-Larner) eloquently guides us through a honest portrayal of South London living in his debut album Yesterday’s Gone. Carner wastes no time showing off his ability to mix on the 15-track album, including three skits, highlighting moments of his mom or dad talking with or about him. A standout is the 34-second skit “Swear” where he and his mother are engaged in playful banter regarding how often she swore around him as a child. This is just an example of the intentionality behind each chord, lyric and artistic skit.
The top of the album introduces us to Carner; “The Isle of Arran” begins with a combination of drums, claps and sampling of a gospel choir. Carner’s voice spits powerful and unashamed lyrics with perfect syntax and flow, almost as if he was preaching to us, the listeners.
“Uh, no, I don't believe him. Uh but know that I’ve been grieving.”
“I wonder why my dad didn’t want me, ex didn’t need me.”
“Ain't Nothing Changed” introduces us to Carner’s parents with voiceover clips of conversations accompanied by horns and harmonicas reminiscent to the moody melodies of Joey Bada$$, who he previously toured with in the UK in 2015.
The 21-year-old rapper captures easy, effortless flows on each track, alongside an intentional breezy nature that gives several nods to the likes of J. Cole or Nas. Even with visible vulnerability, the album is still able to stay true to the grime genre that Carner has become known for, picking up nuances of dancehall instrumentals that originally inspired the grime genre on tracks like "No CD," featuring hip-hop vets Jehst and Rebel Kleff.
This gentle sincerity could only be curated by someone as easy natured as Carner, who has already gained the cosigns from names like Joey Badass, MF Doom and fellow English rapper Skepta over the past year. In fact, Skepta produced four tracks on the new album.
Personal photos of Carner’s parents anchor the album art in stark honesty as the listener is immediately given a look inside the his upbringing. The lyrics reflect a desire to be understood, and allows us to witness his journey through struggles with abandonment, life purpose, romantic relationships and life’s various vices. He leaves nothing unsaid, including his mixed heritage:
Cause dark eyes turn bluish / need something newish / half dark, half Jewish
A standout track on the album without a doubt is the first single, “Florence”. In a 2016 interview, Carner revealed it was said it was named after a little sister he never had. The ability to convey the struggle of background with a mixture of melodic basslines and catchy lyrics allows Carner to set the scene of his life, eloquently demonstrating his past, present and desired future.
Reckons I got a drinking problem/ I’ve been sinking a lot of whiskey/ Reminiscing about the shit forgotten/ new worry about ones who miss me/ Trust.
What is surprising about this album is how well he is able to balance raw unapologetic lyrics while still maintaining a fresh jazzy vibe within his first studio project. This maturity, far beyond his age or musical experience, make for a promising first album; his comfortability clearly illustrate he knows exactly what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.
There is something to be said about the confidence and self-reflection Carner brings to the table in Yesterday's Gone, especially his second single “Damselfly (feat. Tom Misch)”. The two perspectives allow the contrast of the soft, smooth instrumental to meld with Carner’s harsh, emotion-packed lyrics.
It’s rare to find an artist so eager and open to face their feelings towards relationships, parents and self-doubt all in one album, which is why Carner is such a standout. Supported by the two singles, “Florence” and “Damselfly,” he proved even before the album's full release he was able to produce hits that not only resonate with the listener, but also challenge them to interpret a meaning beyond London’s typical grime/hip-hop culture.
Carner admitted in a late 2015 interview that he had “never finished anything he started previous to this album". It is now safe to say that the album was well worth the wait.
Another example of the level of intention Carner constructs behind each within the album is "Sun of Jean," utilizing a play-on-words while rapping about his mother, Jean. The track opens to the feel of an airy, magical dream space, supported by an equally impactful baseline, incorporating the occasional chimes that lead into a voiceover of Carner’s mother describing the artist as a young boy: “Music flows through him. He turned the world upside down and we are grateful for it.”
The earnest sincerity is a perfect transition to the final song, which also bares the same name as the album. As it closes out the album, it refers to its grime origin, combining Carner’s own interpretation of folk through the chorus, a simple expression: “Yesterday’s gone! Let's go out and have some fun, yesterday’s gone!”
The album touches everything from relationship troubles to paternal abandonment, crafting it to perfection by utilizing an array of musical effects. The obvious level of genuine sincerity and soul-baring in Yesterday’s Gone, revealed through the refreshingly transparent nature of his lyrics, can only excite us more for what Carner will create next. It is easy to say that with an artist as fresh and unapologetically honest as Loyle Carner, his music is difficult to ignore.